Recovery Notes #1

So how did I become an alcoholic, anyway?

The truth is that I don’t know. I have spent many years in recovery examining my life and have at various times come up with different explanations. I have blamed it on the fact that I was (and continue to be) over-sensitive, a child full of feelings that were not easily understood by the people around her. I have blamed it on unacknowledged childhood pain, stemming from difficulties in my relationships with my parents. I have blamed it on growing up in a socially isolated immigrant family, on being remorselessly bullied at school, on coming of age during the sixties when young people across North America rebelled against the establishment and getting high became a rite of passage. On genes passed down from an alcoholic grandfather whom I didn’t know. It could have been any of those things. Or all of them. Or none of them. After 35 years of self-examination in sobriety, I still don’t have the definitive answer.

All I know is that as a teenager I felt like a misfit, that I was ugly, stupid and lacking in a way that would preclude me from leading any kind of meaningful life. I was not exposed to drinking as a child, but when I had my first drink at the age of the 16 I took to it like a fish to water. My uncomfortable feelings vanished and I felt the way other people looked: attractive, intelligent and articulate. I could dance. I could flirt. I could carry on a conversation without awkward pauses. I spent the next 14 years trying to recapture that feeling and, as time went by, it took more and more alcohol to do so.

Whatever the reason that I started drinking in the first place, in time alcohol became its own thing, an illness in itself. I never drank socially. From the beginning, I always drank to get drunk. At first it was only an occasional event.  In time, I started to drink every weekend. Then all weekend. Then on week days as well. Then in the mornings. Drinking took over my life so slowly that I didn’t notice it. Instead of drinking to feel good or to have fun, I began to drink in order to drink. Along with drinking, I abused every street drug I could find, particularly pot. The life I led as an alcoholic and addict piled pain onto pain. It reopened wounds I already had and cut deeper. I behaved in ways that were against my own moral code and put myself into situations where I was both abusive and abused. Mornings, I woke up sick and cringing with shame, sometimes unable to remember what I had done the night before. I descended into a black pit of loneliness and despair and didn’t know how to get out. The only solution I could see was to drink myself to death.

So why did I sober up? That’s another question that I can’t answer. The best answer I have is that I wanted to live more than I wanted to die. More about that in my next post.

This blog has been inspired by reactions from readers of “Free Love,” my novel about recovery from alcoholism.  I have often been asked why I chose to write about that particular subject. While there are several answers to that question, the most honest one is that I’m a recovering person myself. That opened the door to more questions. So I have started this blog to share some of my thoughts about alcoholism and addiction, based on my experience and observation. 

If you’d like to read or gift Free Love, check out my HOLIDAY SALE! 



The landscape of “Free Love”: Hamilton

Even though the protagonist in my book Free Love, Marissa, is a fictional character, I have given her some elements of my own biography (it was easier that way). In particular, when she was a young girl, she and her family immigrated to Canada from Holland, as I did. And  Marissa grew up in Hamilton, Ontario in the same era as I did: the 1960s.

Unlike Marissa’s, my family moved around a lot in Hamilton when I was growing up. There was one neighbourhood where I lived for a few years, starting from when I about 7 or 8. It was an inner-city neighbourhood full of working class families. Hamilton was known for steel production and just about everybody’s dad (except mine) worked for the steel company. It is this neighbourhood that comes to mind when I remember my childhood, and this is neighbourhood where I have placed the young Marissa.

I haven’t walked the streets, where young Marissa and I ran around, for more about thirty years. So when I was writing the scenes set in that neighbourhood, I relied on memory and imagination. But Mike Clark, an old friend in Hamilton and a photographer, was inspired to photograph it after reading Free Love. Much has changed from when I remember. It is more rundown and many of the big maple trees are gone. But the streets have that same gritty feel. Here are some of Mike’s photographs of Marissa’s and my old neighbourhood as it looks today.

IMG_0149Ford Street: “I turned the corner onto Ford Street, raced past the field and Mr. Smithers’house (making sure to keep my fingers crossed to ward off evil spirits) until I came to a stop in front of Nina’s grey stucco house across from the railroad tracks.”

IMG_0157The tunnel: “…when I got to the tunnel and peered into its gloom, it looked empty. Holding my breath against the stench of piss, I dragged my cart through the debris of broken glass and flattened cigarette packs.


IMG_0154The field: “Both the field and Nina and George’s stucco house that had stood on the corner were gone. In their place was a sterile apartment building.”


IMG_0151Yonge Street: “He jumped on a flatbed when it was still going fast, before it slowed down to take the turn into the Yonge Street underpass.”